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Hellraiser/Hellraiser II: Limited Edition Tin

Starz / Anchor Bay // R // September 19, 2000
List Price: $49.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted October 7, 2000 | E-mail the Author
Before opening the shrinkwrap on this tin, my sole "Hellraiser" experience had been the deeply-flawed "Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth". I was surprised by how little screentime the Cenobites -- and, of course, their iconic leader Pinhead -- had in "Hellraiser". At best, they're supporting characters, though extremely memorable ones. As discussed on the commentary, "Hellraiser" is about a family, not a group of demons. In the film, a married couple, Larry and Julia, move into an extremely run-down house formerly inhabited by Larry's half-brother Frank, who is missing to no one's surprise. What they don't know, at least not then, is that Frank's body was destroyed when he called forth a group of demons known as the Cenobites through the use of a magic puzzle box. The Cenobites bring pleasure to those that summon them, but in true s&m fashion, they see pleasure and pain as one and the same. After an accident moving a mattress (we've all been there, right?), Frank's body is partially reanimated, to the surprise of Julia, with whom he had a brief affair. In order for his body to fully be restored and to flee from the possibility of the return of the Cenobites, Frank requires flesh and blood, and Julia is all-too-happy to provide him with victims she attracts with her feminine wiles. Frank's niece Kirsty gets caught in this web of lust and murder, and she soon finds herself face-to-face with Uncle Frank and the Cenobites. "Hellraiser", a film full of disturbing imagery, is surprisingly well-directed for a first-time effort from Clive Barker, and the production values, considering the low-budget, still hold up reasonably well even after close to 15 years. The acting, though not of an award-winning caliber, is above my usual standard for such films. I was particularly impressed with how three-dimensional Kirsty was, avoiding the stereotype of the dim-witted, primped bimbo that dominated '80s horror. I don't consider "Hellraiser" to be exceptional as a horror film, but it is different than most, and the visuals alone make it worth viewing.

So, what about "Hellraiser II: Hellbound"? Well, 'Hellbound' is a pretty accurate description. "Hellraiser II" is a poor rehash of the first that feels the need to telegraph everything that happens in the first half of the film well in advance. The other half is a bizarre, incomprehensible series of images and events that just seem silly, particularly any scene with the Cenobite-doctor, who overacts more than anyone this side of "Troll II". Maybe it's intended to be campy, but even a devout fan of camp such as myself wasn't able to appreciate whatever was being done here. There's zero tension, and the visuals obviously intended to be disturbing just...aren't. One of my favorite aspects of "Hellraiser" was the progression of Julia's descent. In the sequel, she spends the duration of the film as Julia, Mistress of Hell, and her eeeeeevil performance is about as subtle as your average Bond villain. The only time the character of Julia is at all tolerable is when Deborah Joel plays the skinless version. The production values fail to even match up to the extremely-low-budget original. The likely difference there is that everyone involved had a passion for the material in the original. "Hellraiser II" didn't have the luxury of obvious enthusiasm from the cast and crew (nor did it have the luxury of decent source material). Nearly as bad is the acting, which approaches Mexican soap opera-level. None of the inmates at the mental institution, for instance, are at all convincing, particularly the first Julia-sacrifice, a patient who is under the delusion that he's covered in maggots. Apparently we're supposed to find his insanity disturbing, but it comes off as seeming nothing more than fake. The use of maggots in the first "Hellraiser" was infinitely more effective. Kyle's 'shock' when he discovers the truth of Kirstie's seemingly crazy talk of demons borders on laughable, particularly when he starts reading the headlines of articles so prominently displayed on screen. Take Tiffany's Willy-Wonka-esque descent into Hell, or the Cenobite sequence with the goofy camera rolling straight out of the '66 "Batman" series. "Hellraiser II" is the "Patch Adams" of horror -- the film tries desperately to evoke an emotional response from the audience, but those attempts seem so forced and contrived that it fails. Early on, a message scrawled with blood reads "I am in Hell, help me". During the 99 minutes I blew watching this waste of celluloid, I felt much the same way.

Video: "Hellraiser" is a hauntingly beautiful film, and aside from some infrequent grain, every frame is flawlessly rendered. Colors are rich, vibrant, and accurately reproduced without any bleeding, and black levels are perfect, the ever-present shadows never degenerating into a muddy mess. If dust or specks appeared at all, I missed 'em during both viewings. Visually, this is by far the definitive "Hellraiser" release. Quite a number of scenes in "Hellraiser II" -- particularly darker interiors -- are riddled with grain, but those somewhat-rare sections where these problems don't present themselves look fantastic (particularly the sunny exterior shot around the 17-18 minute mark). Dust and assorted specks are infrequent but still present to some extent. Black levels remain very strong. I'm rather surprised that "Hellraiser II" looks so much worse than the original since it's slightly more recent (as you could certainly guess from the 'II' tacked onto the title). Both films are enhanced for 16x9 televisions.

Audio: "Hellraiser" features a wonderful 5.1 remix of the original stereo track, particularly the instantly recognizable and oft-imitated score. The dialogue sounds clean and natural, and the rears, though somewhat limited in use, do establish a very appropriate atmosphere. Not one of the most stunning stereo->DD mixes I've heard, but still very effective and quite complementary to the film. "Hellraiser II", on the other hand, sounds like a subpar episode of "The Fall Guy". The dialogue sounds thin and hollow, and the rears and LFE get next to no usage. The score roared from the rears around the 45 minute mark, but before that...hardly anything. The rears are given a little more work to do later in the film, but the lack of use early on is so bad that I had to put my ears to the speakers to see if I could hear anything. I guess such limited use is considered 'atmospheric', but it seemed 'weak' to me. The "Hellraiser" disc sounded like a motion picture, whereas its sequel sounds more like a twenty year old TV movie. The disparity in quality between two discs produced at approximately the same time (and the films themselves were released but a year apart) is an unfortunate surprise. Were I just reviewing "Hellraiser", I'd rate the sound 4/5, but the disappointing work on "Hellraiser II" drops my rating for the set considerably. Another instance of how THX certification is completely, entirely meaningless.

Supplements: Both discs include commentaries, newly produced featurettes, trailers, and still galleries. Both of the letterboxed featurettes are well-made and entertaining, featuring interviews with Clive Barker and a number of members of the cast and crew. However, the "Hellraiser" featurette is about ten minutes longer and also has performance artists hanging themselves with hooks. Yikes. The "Hellraiser" disc features a commentary with writer/director Clive Barker, star Ashley Laurence, and moderator Pete Atkins. One of the better commentaries I've heard, Barker and Laurence maintain a pretty entertaining discussion of the film's themes, anecdotal bits, and the process of getting the film made. I had no idea "Hellraiser" was made for under a million dollars! The moderately-less-interesting "Hellraiser II" commentary, featuring Atkins, Laurence, and director Tony Randel, is very much dominated by Atkins. Laurence, who was extremely chatty in the first, has very little to provide here, her giggling and primarily-monosyllabic replies being the only indication that she didn't step out of the recording session for a cup of coffee or something. Atkins and Randel poke fun at some of the extremely negative reviews "Hellraiser II" garnered, and both are pretty open about the flaws of the film. Although the anecdotes and behind-the-scenes information provided kept my interest, there wasn't much explanation for the bizarre events that make up the second half of the film. A little disappointing in that respect... Both commentaries mention the influence of my favorite director, Dario Argento, and Barker briefly discusses "Suspiria", which I consider a plus. The tin also includes a 48-page booklet, consisting primarily of promotional stills and some behind-the-scenes photos. A handful of quotes are interspersed throughout, and two 5x7" poster replicas with chapter listings are also included in the tin.

Conclusion: Unless you absolutely must have "Hellraiser II" right this minute, I'd recommend just getting the standard "Hellraiser" release. The first film is extremely effective -- it's beautifully shot, contains plenty of unusual and visceral imagery, and after all this time, it's still rather disturbing. "Hellraiser II" did not interest me in the slightest, and its DVD presentation is average at best. Although I do recommend this limited edition tin, I more highly recommend skipping it in favor of the standard release unless you're the sort of sadist who enjoys sitting through "Hellraiser II" and can't wait for its inevitable single-disc release.

The scores I rated the tin, by the way, would've been much higher all around the standard release. For the curious, I'd give "Hellraiser" a video rating of 4/5, an audio rating of 4/5, and a repeat viewing rating of 3/5.
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